Monday, October 03, 2005

On Snobbery

I'm often accused of being a snob. Maybe I am a snob...I'm not going to say it's impossible. Today, it happened in a comment in this thread, where I implied that sports are not an artistic pursuit.

To me, this seems an obvious distinction. Athletics are the expression of the full potential of the human body. When we train or compete (and I say "we" as in "human beings," not as in "me personally," because I neither train nor compete), we are working on our bodies, sculpting them into more perfect instruments. Art, on the other hand, is the expression of the full potential of the human mind. When we write or paint or design, we are working on something outside of our bodies, we are exercizing our mental faculties in an attempt to find and describe some larger truth.

Making this distinction, to my mind, doesn't mean sports don't have value or they are a dumb pursuit or that you have to be dumb to be interested in them. It just means that I think sports and the arts are extremely different - opposite, even - and therefore not comparable. I don't think the four hours of movie viewing I may do daily has anything to do with my critique of watching sports all day.

Most do not see it this way. Most of my friends who like sports (and the commentator from the previous article who called me a snob) seem to think that athletic competition is art, and that athletes are artistic, and that my refusal to recognize the artistry inherent in sports is snobbery of the highest order.

Dancing is often brought up as a counter-example. After all, in order to dance professionally, one must be in peak physical condition. And there aren't many people who would argue that ballet isn't art. Obviously, ballet is art. I just think the artistry comes with the combination of movement and music, with the choreography of the dancers that has been considered and practiced long before the actual dancing begins, and with the emotional resonance the dance itself causes in the audience (if done properly).

Basketball has none of those things. It uses skills which are practiced prior to the game, but not in a thoughtful, organized way. It isn't, "you should use your hook shot in the third quarter because it will be emotionally resonant." It's, "use your hook shot if you have a clear opportunity to get the ball in the basket," whenever. Ballet is about expressing an idea through movement; basketball is about winning a game or a series of games.

But the point of this post isn't the old "are sports art" question that has haunted me since my freshman year of college. The point of this post was to explain that I am a snob.

Because, let's face it, I fit all the major criteria. I think most people are really really dumb. I hate at least 90% of the most popular books, music, TV shows and films.

No, seriously. Below, please find a brief list of things that I hate that almost everyone else in Ameirca likes:

  • The book The Da Vinci Code
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Republican Party
  • The Black Eyed Peas (the hip-hop group) (although I don't like the food either)

Just those four rejections alone isolate me from most Americans. Right now, even as we speak, my roommates and their assorted friends are out there watching "Ultimate Fighting Championship" on Spike TV. For thsoe of you unfamiliar with the UFC, it's a league in which a fighters with a variety of different styles (mainly kickboxers) beat the crap out of each other, with much more lenient rules than boxing. Tonight's show isn't even recently-occuring fights. It's a "best of" show in which they highlight the most brutal or exciting knock-outs from the past decade of UFC matches.

So, it's a program in which a number of men quickly knock a number of other men unconscious. Every time a particularly heavy blow connects, I can tell, because there's an excited "OHHHHHHH!!!!!!" coming from the other room, as if someone is performing simultaneous prostate examinations on every male in the immediate vicinity.

The fact is, there are four grown men in my living room who apparently to find this show gripping. I would no more watch it for an hour than I would watch a nude homeless man covered in sores and suffering from the dry heaves for that long. I watched for a moment, just for the sense of communal experience and to be amongst my friends, but I had to stop after a large man got a smaller man into some sort of wrestling hold and proceeded to bash him 8 times in the head (the DVR was rewound in order to count the blows) with his elbow.

Does not wanting to watch that, even though it's entertaining to all of my friends, make me a snob? Or is it just snobbish to write a blog post about how I dislike UFC, when a non-snob would most likely just not watch the program without feeling the need to publicly comment on the causation behind their decision.

Because, I gotta be honest, even though my tastes may sound elitist, I don't really see myself that way. In high school, a close friend read a book by former Time cultural critic William Henry called "In Defense of Elitism." The book appealed to him back then, though I hope my friend would now recognize it as standard neo-conservative trash, the kind of backward-thinking right-wing clap-trap that was almost adorable back when no one was listening during the Clinton years, but which has slowly become the predominant philosophy in our political culture and operating administration.

At the time, I was not educated enough to make proper sense of the book, to see it for what it was, but I knew all along that the notions expressed therein made me incredibly uncomfortable. Henry argues, as best I can recall, that we need a society that respects only competence and intelligence. In other words, that we should do away with affirmative action, feminism or any other program or system of thought that intentionally gives one group a leg up over another.

His main point is that, because everyone in society is dependant on a functioning economy and government, on those at the top making correct decisions, that merit is all that matters in determining the decision-makers. It's a point that made some sense at 17, even though I found it problematic, that doesn't really make a ton of sense to me any more. Because not everyone has the same opportunities to start with, so it's impossible to come up with an even measure that gives everyone the same fair chance to prove their ability.

Anyway, my point is that before I knew the reasons "In Defense of Elitism" was wrong, I knew it was wrong. Because I don't see myself as an elitist. I see myself as the kind of person who wants to give everyone a chance, even when he knows that most people are probably too stupid to make the most of that chance.

But what do I know? Anyone with my kind of contempt for humanity has got to be a snob, right? I mean, I hate people. How could you not? Take today at the store. We had a ton of morons come in or call today, a ton. There's no way you can work in a retail store like The Blazer, catering to a niche community, without developing a certain level of mistanthropy.

Okay, I'll throw you a highlight. We had a guy come in today who had never been in the store before, said he wanted to rent For Your Eyes Only. A second-tier Roger Moore Bond, but no's better than any of the Brosnans, save possibly Goldeneye. We get him the movie, and as he's checking out, he leans in a bit and says..."You guys will never guess why I'm renting this movie."

He's right...We could have tried all day and never guessed. He said he was renting the film because his complexion is exactly the same as Roger Moore's. He has lined up some job interviews and needs to buy some new suits, so he wants to watch the film to see what colors and styles Roger Moore wears.

Even ignoring the fact that this guy had bad, oily skin and was bald, is that not the craziest thing you've ever heard? I mean, even if it were true, would you eagerly offer that information up to the clerks at the video store? And doesn't James Bond mostly wear tuxedos anyway?

So, yeah, that's just one of the 900 types of crazy encountered daily by yours truly. I could go on, believe me...

Okay, one more?

A guy comes in today, he picks out maybe 20 movies. He's asking me all kinds of annoying questions, about whether all sorts of old, forgettable movies are out on DVD, what I think about all kinds of classic films, mainly ones I haven't seen. Even about why certain movies aren't out on DVD, as if I'm going to have a good answer to that question. I'm a guy who works at a video store. I have about as much to do with the major studio's DVD release schedule as I do with the temperature of the Earth's molten core.

But the coup de grace came a bit later, when he asked me where to find Unfaithfully Yours. It's the classic Preston Sturges comedy helpfully reviewed by yours truly right here. As I'm grabbing the film for him (located directly in front of where he was standing, I might add), he said to me, I swear, "You know, my writing is often compared to Sturges, so I thought I'd check him out."

Out of nowhere. I didn't say, "Oh, while I'm grabbing you this DVD, tell me, to which Golden Age Hollywood director is your personal work most frequenlty compared?" I didn't say anything, except maybe, "Here's the movie." I might have also muttered "douchebag" under my breath, but there's no way he could have heard it, so let's pretend I didn't.

He wound up not buying at least half the films he had picked out, just leaving them up at the counter for us to put away. I think he might have been disappointed I didn't take the bait and ask him more about his writing, but I'm not about to go down that road. That's a rookie clerk mistake.

Now, dealing with a guy like that, a pathetic creature so shameless he'll use any opportunity at all to compare himself to one of the greatest writers in film history, how can you not morph into some kind of snob? It's not physically possible.


Jiggavegas said...

what's the point in having a blog if not to broadcast your opinions to anyone willing to read them? if it's not snobbery to HAVE the opinion (and come on, Forrest Gump sucks) than it's not snobbery to blog about it. I might go so far as to make the case that snobbery is reading opinionated blogs on purpose so you can leave comments telling people they're snobs for having those opinions...

Cory said...

I'm a huge snob, but...I admittedly really enjoyed "The DaVinci Code." Is it entirely ridiculous? Yes. Is it well-crafted prose? Of course not. But it's highly entertaining and very exciting if you allow yourself to get drawn into it.

Lonnie, did you read it?

Lons said...

I quit after 100 pages or so. I don't allow myself to quit books before 100 pages, which is what I consider to be "giving it a shot." (In movies, it's 20 minutes).

I didn't think it was interesting as a mystery, and frankly I don't really care about the real-world religious/spiritual implications. So Jesus had a wife and kid, and descendants. Big fucking deal. He could have had a Honda dealership and a motoryacht for all I care.

gohlke said...

Are you saying you're too good for JC? What a fucking snob!